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5th National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Summit

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The Hon Ken Wyatt AM, MP

Minister for Aged Care Minister for Indigenous Health Member for Hasluck


5th National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Summit 22 June 2018

In West Australian Noongar language I say “kaya wangju” — hello and welcome.

I acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we’re meeting, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, and pay my respects to Elders, past and present.

Thank you Uncle Raymond Davison for your wonderful Welcome to Country. You are very kind to welcome us so warmly onto your land.

Thank you also to Professor Kerry Arabena for your kind introduction.

I would also like to acknowledge:  Brad Hazzard (NSW Minister for Health and Medical Research)  Elizabeth Koff (Secretary of NSW Health) and  Stan Grant (ABC Indigenous Affairs Editor) and  All the distinguished people here today.

Today’s theme of “Aboriginal Health - It’s Time To Reset” is critical to the future.

But I believe much of the required reset involves learning from the knowledge of the past.

That’s why I want to talk about health and heroes, and their fundamental importance - from the day we are born.

A few weeks ago, I experienced one of the highlights of my year, when I met a 14-year-old Sydney boy called Jacob, who’d just won a prize for writing an incredibly powerful story - and I’d like to share some of it with you:

“Let me tell you about Ricky, my hero at school. The reason Ricky is my hero is because he is proud to be Aboriginal and I look up to him for advice about my culture.

“He is in Year 12, his Country is Kamilaroi. I am in Year 9, and my Country is Darug. Ricky is a great leader. Last year, he taught the Year 8 boys at my school the Aboriginal War Cry.

“He was really proud and excited to teach us and was offended when some of the boys were mucking around and mocking it.

“He taught them how to be respectful of Aboriginal people, and how important our culture is, not just to us, but also to them. They don’t mock it any more.

Ricky taught me why the War Cry is important because it is a big cultural dance.

“It’s a huge thing for Aboriginal people to show off their pride and culture, because people have told us to not be proud for so long.

“It was amazing to watch non-Indigenous people learn it, because it shows that we are proud to be Aboriginals, and they are proud to share it with us.

Ricky wants to train me to do the Acknowledgement of Country, and hopefully this year, I’ll get a chance.

Ricky is an all-round awesome person. He is a laid back, cool guy who loves being an Aboriginal.

“He is respectful towards all people, including his elders and his culture. I hope that one day, I can be just like him.”

I am sure Jacob will grow up like his hero, Ricky.

He’s certainly on the right track, because when you understand where you’ve come from, you can determine with confidence where you’re going to.

If we think about where we are and where we came from, as First Nations people, we didn’t need all of the organisations or the structures we have today - and we didn’t need to put money into agencies.

For 65,000 years, it was family-centred, child-centred and community centred.

Centred around a woman, with her key roles as the mother and protector of each family, and equally, around a man, the father and protector, with his firm responsibilities.

Yet, we now live in a period in which we have some prevalence rates of ill health that are unacceptable, by any standards.

It’s time for home-based heroes, for fathers and mothers everywhere to become family warriors, as they were before - and still are in functional families.

We are not going to fully transform the health status of those who are struggling, until every Aboriginal man and woman understands and is proud of themselves and their culture, that perpetuated life for so long.

Culture must be at the forefront of those early years of learning and acquisition of knowledge - just as young Jacob told us in his story.

Our mothers and fathers, uncles, aunts and grandparents - our families are the first protectors of our children, the warriors for their welfare and their future.

As Anne Hollonds, Director of the Australian Institute of Family Studies, says: “The relationships within a family system provide the scaffolding for development and wellbeing.”

We know just how important family strength and responsibility is, from the moment a child is conceived.

Canadian research shows that from then, until the age of six, is a critical period for brain development and subsequent learning skills, behaviour and lifelong health.

The first three years, in particular, can shape the brain’s thought processes for the rest of your life.

This is fundamental to the First 1,000 Days Australia movement, and I thank Professor Arabena and her team for their tireless work for children and families.

The First 1,000 Days movement has men as shields - engaged warriors, standing ready and responsible.

As children - love, certainty and protection nourish our bodies, brains and cultural souls.

Parents are our children’s first and most important heroes.

It’s now time to highlight the heroes within our families and communities, to move to empowerment from disempowerment, to move away from a deficit model.

Across the Tasman, Maori Alan Duff made history in the 1990s, with the book and movie Once Were Warriors.

The story’s portrayal of family breakdown shocked the world - but he has much to say about Maori heroes, too, writing an entire book on national and local favourites.

He says: “Every tribe throughout history has its own heroes. They represent us, the ordinary people, the people who have yet to realise their own potential. “Every street in every town and city has its own heroes: The girl who models herself on the best women she knows - starting usually with her mother, maybe her grandmother, a favourite aunty - and adopts those qualities for herself, of dignity and pride and ambition and, most of all, love, for not just her own blood but for all around her. They’re heroines and heroes.”

Again, I hear resounding echoes of young Jacob’s story.

Contemporary Australian life should be complementary to the cultural focus that we have held on to for so long, but we need to harness modern health care - and the systems must be responsive.

What successful programs are doing is challenging the paradigm of advice coming from sections of Australian society that are not reflective of, or relevant to, families and communities at the grassroots level.

Today, I’m announcing that an expert panel will investigate and identify barriers faced by First Nations people needing kidney donations, to help ensure equity of access to lifesaving and life changing transplants.

We know our people have seven times the rate of end-stage renal disease compared with other Australians - but are much less likely to receive a donor kidney.

In December 2016, there were almost 2,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people registered for kidney transplants and dialysis.

But only around 13 per cent received transplants, compared with 50 per cent of other Australians.

First Nations people are nine times more likely to rely on dialysis to keep them alive.

The Turnbull Government is providing funding of $250,000 for the Transplantation Society of Australia and New Zealand (TSANZ) to lead a comprehensive review into the hurdles, service gaps and practical challenges they face.

This aims to increase Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander transplant rates, reduce the burden of regular dialysis and give more First Nations people the chance to live fulfilling lives on country and in their communities.

The panel will comprise people with expertise in working in community, clinical settings, research and public policy and will consult widely across First Nations communities and the health and transplantation sectors.

The panel’s work will help inform development of a long-term strategy for transplantation being undertaken by the Commonwealth - which it is hoped will be ready for consideration by COAG in 2019.

Ensuring transplant equity is fundamental to fairness and Closing the Gap in health equality.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, on average, are living longer than ever before — and factors contributing to the health equality gap, such as death from heart attack and stroke are going down.

The recent Federal Budget provides $3.9 billion for Indigenous health, over the next four years — an annual increase of approximately 4 per cent.

Highlights include:  An extra $30 million for annual hearing assessments and follow-up treatment for children before they start school  $3 million for eye health, building on the $31.3 million currently being provided;  A significant boost to remote renal services, with a new Medicare Benefits

Schedule item  $25 million to Purple House for on country dialysis and prevention programs; and  $4.8 million for the elimination of crusted scabies as a public health issue in First

Nations communities by 2022.

But we all know that money, in and of itself, will not deliver the outcomes we are seeking to achieve.

At the very least, it must be properly targeted — with investments based on family and community involvement, along with robust evidence that shows what works.

I know that mothers and fathers, armed with confidence in their culture, are the frontline warriors and protectors we need.

They are the custodians of commitment and hope.

It’s time for us to focus even more on re-invigorating our family custodians, giving them back their responsibility, and their pre-determined power from the past.

So that every mother, father, uncle, aunt and Elder every day, contributes to better health and cultural wellbeing.

We must work together to help reset tomorrow, so I intend to invite people from across the nation and across our First Nations - for a roundtable on how we can strengthen the families of the world’s oldest continuous culture, in a transitioning Australia.

Families have been our constant, for 65,000 years - and today, more than ever, they are the custodians of our future.

Thank you.